With the 53rd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Penn St. RB Miles Sanders. This selection may have come as a surprise for some as it was the first time Howie Roseman has selected a RB before the 4th round. A widespread narrative was that the Eagles’ Executive Vice-President of Football Operations didn’t value the position enough to ever pick one early, but he finally put that notion to rest, showing that if he’s high enough on a player then he’s willing to select them whenever he needs to in order to get his guy.
If you’ve followed my work leading up to this year’s draft, then you are aware that Sanders was a personal favorite of mine. In a relatively weak RB class, Sanders stood out as someone who, despite his inexperience and current flaws to his game, had a ton of upside and could be a true featured back in the NFL. I’ve argued that his ceiling is even higher than Josh Jacobs’ who I ranked as the top RB in the class. So, in order to explain why I favored him so much I want to give you my detailed evaluation of Sanders and what it is I see in him as a projected talent in the NFL.
First, I want to start with his flaws. The most glaring one to me has to be his fumbles. In 2018 Sanders fumbled the ball 5 times on 249 touches. That’s a high number of fumbles and something that needs to be cleaned up. A lack of ball security is one of the quickest ways to find yourself riding the bench, no matter how talented of a player you may be.
Another quick way to the bench in today’s game is being a liability in pass protection, and that is something Sanders is going to be heavily coached on by Assistant Coach Duce Staley. His deficiencies in this area of his game weren’t so much due to a lack of effort or desire as much as they were due to an overall lack of mental processing and technique. There were reps during his time in Penn St. where Sanders made the wrong read, leaving a blitzer with a free line to the QB. There were other reps where his execution at the POA (Point Of Attack) was just poor. He will be expected to show vast improvement as a blocker before he can be trusted in crucial passing situations.
Let’s go back to pass pro… Indiana* game I’m not sure he knew what he was supposed to be doing, more of that here. Priority 1, 2, and 3 and you hope it’s just inexperience in those situations, which is understandable.
Somebody smarter than me please come own me. pic.twitter.com/IPTq0KTE4x
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) April 30, 2019
From strictly a runner’s standpoint, Sanders shows some similar tendencies as his former Nittany Lion teammate Saquon Barkley. Instead of displaying a vast understanding of blocking schemes and anticipating lanes to develop, there were times when Sanders simply ran to wherever he saw some daylight. This led to some poor decisions and him bouncing a portion of his runs to the outside when he shouldn’t have. He also showed a tendency to get a little too cute sometimes, trying to dance around defenders instead of taking the necessary tough yards that were there in front of him. Those tendencies are more easily masked when you’re an athletic freak like Barkley, but while Sanders is an exceptional athlete in his own right, he can’t afford to rely solely on that athleticism to maximize his runs. Defenders in the NFL are way too talented and won’t let him.
All that being said, one needs to remember that Sanders was the starting RB for the Nittany Lions for only one season, so he’s still a raw prospect. With the right coaching and more experience under his belt I expect many of these flaws to be fixed. And considering the things he does do well, it’s hard not to see the upside he possesses.
As I mentioned prior, Sanders is an exceptional athlete in his own right. The following are his testing results from the NFL Combine:
40-Yard Dash: 4.49 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 36”
Broad Jump: 10’4”
3-Cone: 6.89 seconds
20-Yard / Short Shuttle: 4.19 seconds
His RAS (Relative Athletic Score) was very impressive as well:
With the 53rd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Eagles select Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State.
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019
As always, the important question when it comes to a player’s tested athleticism is if it shows up on tape, and for Sanders it absolutely does. He has excellent explosiveness, whether it be behind the line of scrimmage or at the 2nd and 3rd levels of the field. He knows how to change speeds and hit that next gear to accelerate by defenders. He also possesses outstanding agility and can string together cuts seamlessly without losing speed, all of which makes him incredibly elusive. It’s easy to see how much of a threat he is in space as there are numerous highlights of him making defenders look silly and gasping at air. Remember, there is a difference between being agile and being explosive. They don’t always go hand in hand. Devin Singletary is an example of a RB in this draft class that has elite agility but not the explosiveness to match it, while Trayveon Williams is an example of a RB who has elite explosiveness but not the agility to match it. The elite athletes at the RB position are the ones who have both, and Sanders is a prospect who does.
But Sanders isn’t just a finesse back either. He has good contact balance and runs with great pad level. He keeps himself low to the ground which gives him really good leverage when taking on defenders. So even though he could use some more muscle in his lower half still, Sanders’ low center of gravity not only enables him to make sharp cuts but also helps him fight through a decent amount of contact and keep his runs alive.
As raw as Sanders is, he’s not completely absent from understanding the nuances of the position. As many reps there are of him with questionable vision and decision making, there are also a good amount of reps of him showing very good patience and efficient footwork approaching the line of scrimmage. He displays the necessary spatial awareness and anticipation in gap schemes as well as the patience and burst needed in zone schemes, making him scheme-versatile. He moves very well between gaps and in traffic, picking and choosing his lanes before exploding upfield and showing the ability to get skinny in tight quarters.
And then comes his versatility. Although his stats might not show it, the tape shows that Sanders has good hands and is able to catch smoothly away from his body. The times that he has been used as a receiving weapon out of the backfield, he ran various routes including wheel routes deep. He also had reps where he lined up detached from the formation and in the slot. So, his lack of production doesn’t necessarily show that he can’t be a great receiving back, but more so that he just wasn’t used extensively that way at Penn St.
.@Eagles @BoobieMilesXXIV waited his turn @psufootball for @saquon to move in and he looked a lot like SaquonLight. Less than 300 total college carries; the wheels have all their tread left on the tires. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/qYipv3z8T7
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) April 27, 2019
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) April 27, 2019
Regardless of how you evaluate or see Sanders as a talent, the indisputable fact is that he is slated to have a big role in the Eagles’ offense long-term. Howie Roseman raved on about Sanders and how he was a favorite of the coaching staff, personnel staff, and all of the front office. He wouldn’t have selected him in the 2nd round if he didn’t have big plans for him.
Roseman traded for former Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard before the draft, but Howard only has 1 year left on his contract. There’s no guarantee that he’s slated to be on the team beyond this season. And if he was already looked at as the team’s lead back for years to come, then Howie wouldn’t have been so eager to draft Sanders.
The beauty of the situation is that Sanders, who has low mileage coming into the league because of how long he had to sit behind Barkley, doesn’t need to be pressed into a starting role right away, and that might be best for him as he works on the areas of his game that need to be worked on. Howard can be the starting RB in 2019 with Sanders getting more and more touches as the season goes along. It’s a great way for the organization to smoothly transition from Howard to Sanders, setting it up to eventually be a RB committee that is Sanders’ to lead from 2020 on.
It might seem premature to put these types of expectations on Sanders, but I really don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to see him as the franchise’s next great RB. We haven’t had a talent like him in Philadelphia since the days of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy, and Sanders has the talent to have a similar type of career that both did.
Miles Sanders arrives at NovaCare complex
“I’ve seen LeSean McCoy come through Philly and put on. He did great for the Eagles, but I’m looking forward to doing even better. I’m just looking forward to coming in and doing whatever I can to help this team get another championship” https://t.co/3p5pNnWiTs
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) April 27, 2019
For a time, it looked as though the Philadelphia Eagles would be the only team in the NFC East without a legitimate lead RB talent.
The Dallas Cowboys have Zeke Elliott.
The New York Giants have Saquon Barkley.
The Washington Redskins have Derrius Guice.
But now, the Eagles have Miles Sanders.
It’s going to be a lot of fun seeing this kid run.